Russia is a country neither for beginners nor for the faint-hearted. And the Russian roads are perhaps one of the most accurate expressions of a wild and abrupt society with a taste for speed and danger, and very little time for altruism. The Road Movie is a collage of very short videos recorded with the dashboard cameras of vehicles across the nation.
There are buses on fire, lorries flipping over and smashing all the cars on their way, airplanes collapsing from the sky (or is it a comet?), a vehicle falling into a river and car crashes of all types (many of which fatal, I would hazard a guess). There is also salacious negotiation with a prostitute, crazed pedestrians attacking cars, overbearing police action, a vehicle being burglarised and much, much more. You will jump from seat every minute or so, and you will probably scream along with many of the terrified passengers.
The moments you will never forget include a deranged man with a pistol shooting the tires and running with an axe after the driver of the car from which the action is being captured, and another one jumping like an ape on top of the car hood, for some unexplained reason (pictured at the top of the article). There’s also a car driving through a burning forest, and you will feel like you are right in the middle of a satanic ritual (pictured below). This is genuinely nightmarish stuff, straight from a very twisted book by Stephen King. Jaw-dropping: you might even get mandibular pain.
This may sound a sadistic exercise of voyeurism and bad taste, but in reality it’s far more than that. Unlike the police chase TV shows late on British television, there is no voiceover, no sense of closure and justice. Instead, we are left to imagine what the outcome is, and the thoughts that will cross your mind won’t be very pretty. There’s only crudeness and hopelessness, all to the sound of cheesy Russian pop music. This is an ironic and chilling allegory of Mother Russia.
The irresponsibility of drivers is pervasive. Many oare dismissive of the gravity of their predicament, even laughing at the face of tragedy. One of them places the onus of accountability on the Guy above: “God will protect me”. The lack of solidarity is far more conspicuous. A driver sees another car running over a cow and then says: “I don’t give a shit about them”. Another one watches woman accidentally set fire to her car in a petrol station, possibly killing herself; he then calmly drives away saying “stupid bitch”.
Perhaps one sequence sums up the movie very succinctly: two men engage in an erratic brawl while the voice from the car radio says: “we need more education, we are an ignorant country”.
Strangely, the film photography is fascinating. The glass, the rain and the snow distort the images in a very eerie way. Some sort of morbid and accidental Tarkovsky. You will see the wintery white roads in the country and the urban landscape of cities such as Moscow and Ekaterinburg both at day and at night. That’s a ride from hell through Russia. There’s a even a red Lada being chased towards the Kremlin. How much more Russian can you possibly get?
The Road Movie showed on September 24th as part of Hot Docs London, when this piece was originally written. The film has been already acquired for distribution in the US and we would hazard a guess that the same will probably happen in the UK soon. In any case, don’t miss the screening this month. It’s out in cinemas across the US on January 19th.
Just don’t watch this if you are squeamish or an easily impressionable driver.